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What Is An Assault Weapon?

Science & Tech  (tags: americans, business, design, gund debate, investigation, research, safety, science, society, study, technology )

- 1924 days ago -
For years, a debate has raged over the role of assault weapons in a nation where the "right to keep and bear arms" is enshrined in the Constitution. But what exactly is an assault weapon? * Historical definitions,

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Kit B (276)
Friday January 18, 2013, 10:10 am
Which of these are assault weapons, and which are not? It depends on whom you ask.
(PHOTO CREDIT: Creative Commons | Joshuashearn)

For years, a debate has raged over the role of assault weapons in a nation where the "right to keep and bear arms" is enshrined in the Constitution. But what exactly is an assault weapon?

The weapons have come to the forefront with President Barack Obama's gun control proposals, including a push for a renewed assault weapons ban and for a ban on high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Though politicians and gun enthusiasts each have their own definition of what is and isn't an assault weapon, a useful framework for the debate was written into law in 1994, when the Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) was enacted during the Clinton administration.

That law, according to Mike Cooper on, defined an assault weapon as "any semiautomatic rifle with a detachable magazine and at least two of the following five items: a folding or telescopic stock; a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon; a bayonet mount; a flash suppressor or threaded barrel (a barrel that can accommodate a flash suppressor); or a grenade launcher."

That definition, however, raises about as many questions as it answers. For example, how does having a bayonet mount (but not an actual bayonet) turn a rifle into an assault rifle? And outside of Civil War re-enactments, who actually still uses a bayonet? [10 Major Innovations That Revolutionized Combat]

"Yes, they still make them," Cooper wrote. "In a desperate wartime situation, a bayonet gives you something somewhat more effective than a raised middle finger when you've run out of bullets." But labeling a rifle an assault weapon because it has a metal clip where one might potentially mount a bayonet is "circular reasoning," Cooper wrote.

One significant problem with the particulars of legal definitions, said John Sweeney of, is that gun manufacturers easily slipped through the loopholes in the AWB by removing any features that defined a rifle as an assault weapon.

"The definition of the assault weapon in that [AWB] legislation had so many extras bayonet mount, for example that simply by making a few superficial changes, the basic AR-15 [semiautomatic rifle] was no longer an assault weapon," Sweeney wrote.

As flawed as the AWB definition of assault weapons may be, the wording has found its way into many state codes, including that of Connecticut, site of the December Newtown school shootings. "The AR-15 that [shooter] Adam Lanza used was a legal weapon under Connecticut law," wrote Sweeney.

Another point of contention in the gun control debate is the use of magazine clips that hold ammunition. The Connecticut definition of "assault weapon" includes semiautomatic pistols with "an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip." While many states have no such restrictions on magazine clips, other states place a limit on the number of rounds a weapon's magazine can hold. (States can create their own definitions of what makes an assault weapon, but that definition can't be weaker than the federal one.)

Despite the vagaries of state and federal laws, there is some common ground among gun rights' activists and gun control advocates. Fully automatic weapons like machine guns, which continue to fire bullets as long as the trigger is pulled, are legal to own but are tightly regulated by the federal government, according to Many states have regulations that are stricter, or have outright bans on automatic weapons.

It's the definition of semiautomatic weapons, which fire a bullet each time the trigger is pulled, that sets off sparks in the gun control debate. Most firearms available today, including small handguns, rifles and pistols, are semiautomatic, according to

The FN Five-seven handgun that was used in the 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, was a semiautomatic weapon capable of shooting 20 rounds in just 5.3 seconds. And the Glock 19 that Jared Loughner used to shoot Gabrielle Giffords and kill six people in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011 was a semiautomatic handgun, reports

Both of those handguns, however, were perfectly legal even under the AWB, which expired in 2004.
****links within body of article at VISIT SITE****

By: Marc Lallanilla, | Live Science

Kit B (276)
Friday January 18, 2013, 10:15 am

Perhaps before this debate continues we might ask our leaders in Congress or the Joint Chiefs, to carefully and fully define exactly what makes a gun an assault rifle. Because currently we are debating something that is still not clearly defined. Maybe we need to examine the terms we use? To call something an assault weapon is vague at best, we all know that even a fist could be an assault weapon. That aside, when it comes to acting on actual legislation, I believe we need clear definitions that leave no more room for excuses.

Angelika R (143)
Friday January 18, 2013, 1:45 pm
A discussion over this question is indeed needed and helpful, as the latest Piers Morgan show made clear.
"Is a tank an assault waepon?" was his question. Few probably know that it was defined within the previous ban. Yes Kit, there needs to be an unmistakably clearly worded definition in any upcoming new law and I guess legislation will consider this.
I've also heard opinions that it is "anything that LOOKS like an assault weapon"-

Kit B (276)
Friday January 18, 2013, 1:54 pm

Looking like an assault weapon and being defined as one may not be the same thing. I've heard people say that hammers are "assault weapons" - true, anything can be used to assault, but not everything was designed for that purpose.

A tank was designed as a weapon for assault, so I don't think that or rocket launchers, flame throwers and few other things should even need discussion. Just to be on the safe side, they should be included in the wording of the final draft.

Yvonne White (229)
Friday January 18, 2013, 2:14 pm
Knowing RepubliCONs & gun lobbiests, I think a very precise definition is needed! Since almost all modern guns are semi-automatic, I think the ammo is even more important than the weapon - magazines of more than ten rounds are absolutely too dangerous - make criminals have to work for their mass murders by having to reload! NATIONAL background checks would help most! And internet sales of guns and/or ammo should be monitored by the NSA & DOD (at Least as closely as they monitor Our emails!)!!!

Kit B (276)
Friday January 18, 2013, 2:53 pm

We could make the ATF a functioning part of this.

Mary Donnelly (47)
Saturday January 19, 2013, 1:05 pm
Thanks Kit. Clear and precise definitions are always a good beginning for any project.

Gloria H (88)
Saturday January 19, 2013, 2:51 pm
wordsmiths and lawyers need to get together on this.

Lois Jordan (63)
Saturday January 19, 2013, 4:39 pm
Noted w/thanks, Kit. According to an article in The Nation, (1/21/13), by George Zornick, the Assault Weapons Ban that Diane Feinstein plans to introduce in the Sen. has much tighter language than the one passed in 1994. It names 120 gun models that would be outlawed and makes a weapon with one military characteristic the bar for illegality, (in 1994, it was two). Unfortunately, gun manufacturers worked to place minor changes not included in the previous bill, to get around the restrictions. This bill could end up as watered down and tangled as the Financial Reform bill....and regulations could also go unfunded if we don't pay attention.

Theodore Shayne (56)
Saturday January 19, 2013, 4:43 pm
Interesting article.

Past Member (0)
Saturday January 19, 2013, 6:27 pm
The definition of an 'assault' weapon is as vague as that of a 'defense' weapon.

Great article Kit. Thanks.

Tanya W (65)
Sunday January 20, 2013, 2:24 am
The bottom line is all guns kill!! If people wern't armed to the back teeth in times of anger then more people would walk away!!!

M B (62)
Sunday January 20, 2013, 9:49 am
I agree with Tanja "The bottom line is all guns kill!!"
I mustn't know what the difference of weapons is, they kill. Period.

Scott haakon (4)
Monday January 21, 2013, 10:15 am
It is interesting that people are talking about two different things.
An article by Field and stream: give a better look.

Animae C (514)
Sunday January 27, 2013, 10:30 pm
...... ALL OF THEM!
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